Philip A. Shucet, the man appointed a little over three years ago by Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) to restore fiscal discipline and public trust in the Virginia Department of Transportation, announced yesterday that he is resigning as commissioner at the end of the month.
Shucet, whose family remained in Virginia Beach while he worked in Richmond, said that he wants to spend more time near his family and that he expects to return to the private-sector career he put on hold to take over VDOT.
Shucet said now is the time to go because he has done what he signed up to do. "The business goals that the governor gave me a little over three years ago have largely been accomplished," Shucet said. "A strong team is in place, the six-year program has been restored to fiscal integrity, and VDOT's on-time, on-budget improvements speak for themselves."
When Shucet agreed to lead VDOT in April 2002, he took over an agency that was reeling from the loss of key personnel, had promised projects it couldn't afford and was, Warner said, in "crisis." At the time, four of every five projects were behind schedule, and half were over budget. One of Shucet's first tasks was to cancel nearly a third of the state's transportation projects for lack of funds.
Warner, state representatives and groups outside government credited Shucet with instituting practices that reversed many of those shortcomings. VDOT's most recent report card showed that it finished three of four construction projects on time, while completing four of five on budget.
Shucet also launched "Project Dashboard," an online accounting of the agency's construction performance that has won industry awards. VDOT plans to add maintenance, engineering and other performance goals to it this month.
"He's the kind of transportation professional VDOT needed," Warner said. "He took an agency that had lost most of the public's trust, lost the trust of most legislators, had a six-year plan that was a wish list, an on time and on budget that was pathetic -- and his team turned it around."
Warner said he plans to name an interim commissioner from within VDOT this week.
"I think Commissioner Shucet's resignation is a great loss to the commonwealth," said Bob Chase, president of the Northern Virginia Transportation Alliance. "I think Shucet brought the type of professionalism, energy and integrity you need in a position like that. He set firm deadlines for programs, the completion rate is up, and they're doing a much better job bringing things in on budget."
Politicians from both parties said Shucet was one of the least partisan people in Richmond, a trait they said helped and hurt him.
"The guy was a professional," said Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun), vice chairman of the House Transportation Committee. "Partisanship was not his first or even second priority, and that allowed him to attack issues and do it day in and day out." But May added, "Philip would've probably had some additional successes if he was a little more astute politically" in dealing with a Republican-controlled legislature.
Others said he had done a good job righting VDOT but had left many things undone.
"Much to his credit, he's the first commissioner to recognize the limitations of particular road projects and that you can't just asphalt your way out of the problem," said Trip Pollard of the Southern Environmental Law Center in Charlottesville. "He recognized the link between transportation and land use. He helped elevate discussion of issues. But I don't think he has gotten as far in changing some of the policies and programs that have the greatest impact on communities and the environment."
Shucet said his biggest regret is that "in some cases it took me longer to deal with some people issues than it should have." He said most of those were in the Hampton Roads district, where officials continue to be plagued by out-of-control projects.
Shucet said he plans to stay in Virginia Beach and work in the private sector but does not have a job lined up.
"It's just been a great three years," he said. "I take away a lot of important lessons from this assignment, from this organization. I hope most people see it as a place that is better off than it was."